Education Opinion

Shine on Florida, Shine on!

By Anthony J. Mullen — April 20, 2010 3 min read
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The gray storm clouds are parting and moving toward the east. Better the ominous clouds head toward the ocean than remain over my head. There’s a lot of angry energy in those clouds, and one particularly nasty looking thunderhead lingers behind. It seems to be positioned directly above a group of children playing baseball in a town park, waiting for the right moment to release a torrent of rain. A brilliant burst of sunshine appears from the southeast, confronting the stubborn thunderhead with all its glory and warmth. Nature will soon be engaged in another spectacular duel in the sky.

The Associated Press is reporting that Florida Governor Charlie Crist has vetoed a state education bill that would have eliminated any semblance of tenure and tied teacher pay to student test scores. The veto will make the Republican governor unpopular with fellow Republican legislative leaders as well as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Opposing a tempest of angry politicians and a former governor who still lingers over the national education landscape is either an act of political suicide or the conscience of a new breed of politician who truly cares about the welfare of children.

The fuming thunderhead will not budge. A lot of children are looking at the menacing cloud and wondering if it will spoil their afternoon baseball game. A few adults are opening umbrellas and some are walking toward cars, but the sun is rising higher in the southeast and appears to be climbing over the massive storm cloud.

Governor Crist once favored Senate Bill 6 but had second thoughts when the people—yes, the people—of Florida staged massive protests against this seminal piece of legislation. The governor listened to the voices of constituents who overwhelmingly opposed the bill. Crist said that his veto was not about politics but about the state’s schoolchildren. Former Governor Jeb Bush, chairman of something called the Foundation for Florida’s Future, was not very happy. “By taking this action, Governor Crist has jeopardized the ability of Florida to build on the progress of the last decade.” The former governor could not let a small letdown get in the way of self-promotion.

Shards of sunlight can be seen piercing the massive and unyielding thunderhead. A young boy standing on the pitcher’s mound points toward the sky and smiles. The sun is unleashing a surge of heat and light intent on dispersing the unwanted visitor.

Thousands of parents concerned with the ramifications of Senate Bill 6 used their opposable thumbs to text messages to the state capital in Tallahassee. A few dinosaurs used conventional phones, but they shared a common message: The legislation is flawed, ominous, and an unsolicited breach upon the state’s constitution. A parent’s instinctive desire to protect their children emerged and the governor listened to them.

The angry thunderhead has nowhere to run. The sun has encircled its dwindling mass and continues to fire billions of photons at its cold, damp heart. The slate colored cloud takes a last stand and reconfigures its bruised body. I watch it move slightly west and hover over the children.

Governor Crist said he once favored Senate Bill 6 and still supports the concept of pay for performance and holding teachers accountable. But he changed his mind when the faces of children, particularly the faces of children with special needs, tweaked his conscience. The light and wisdom of parents interceded and made the governor realize that he was dealing with real children rather than data on a spread sheet.

The sun’s supremacy will not be ignored. The thunderhead is hit with a strong broadside of sunlight and it begins to break apart. Its center can no longer hold and wisps of gray matter disperse in all directions. The great duel in the sky is over.

Today a group of children will finish their baseball game. And today parents and children can rejoice that a state governor did not allow the interests of a foundation or lobbyists guide his conscience. The storm clouds have left Florida and all can bask in the warmth of reason and sound judgment.

Shine on Florida, shine on!

The opinions expressed in Road Diaries: 2009 Teacher of the Year are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.